We as humans possess an innate ability to recognize music, understand it, and react to it. Thus, music plays an integral role at all stages of our mental development. But the question is, is there a particular benefit of exercise with music?

During our lives, we establish a preference for a particular taste in music. In general, it correlates to how we view ourselves as individuals. And in a way, it’s connected to who we are. In our fitness journey, music can motivate us through action, thought and performance.

Exercise with music can generally help us improve our performance. However, that’s not where it ends. There are several factors in the mix, such as the type of music we choose.

The rhythm and tempo are precursors for “zoning in.” Essentially, exercise with music is a way to distract ourselves from the feelings of pain and boredom. And to be honest, they are sometimes inevitable companions of the repetitiveness of working out.

Now that you get the overall idea let’s see what scientists have to say about the exercise with music.

Scientific Opinion On The Importance Of Exercise with Music

Sports scientists have focused on the different characteristics of music such as pace, intensity, rhythm to examine how it relates to our perceived exhaustion during exercise.

A 2006 study found that people who listened to fast-paced music increased their distance traveled and pace without becoming more tired.

Other studies suggested that listening to music with more beats per minute enhances physical performance during low to moderate lever exercise.

These scientists rely on data from a laboratory setting. So, they base their conclusions on a scientific method, which often sheds only a glimpse into the totality of the benefits.

A person stretching before doing a workout, while listening to music on white headphones, preparing for exercise with music. He is wearing a black t-shirt. There is an ocean in the background.

We can conclude from this research that if we want to better ourselves cardio-wise, we can do so much more by listening to faster and more upbeat music while exercising.

  • Distract (taking the mind off of the exercise; Dissociation through music diverts the mind)
  • Creates Emotion (the emotion which we create by listening to a song that is somehow significant to us)
  • Causes Arousal (tendency to move, to exercise, to act in a way which positively benefits our health)
  • People Move to Tempo

The Four Areas of Action

According to the Effects of Music in Exercise and Sport: A Meta-Analytic Review, music helps through 4 areas of action:

  • Distracts
  • Creates Emotion
  • Causes Arousal
  • Moves People to Tempo

Exercise with music distracts us from panicking that a radical change in our system is happening. Because our mind has a divergent focus, it does not perceive a single action as immensely consuming energy, so the body’s signals, linked to metabolic changes while under the stress of exercise, aren’t that alarming to us.

We integrate our music taste with our personality traits and no wonder that exercise with music creates emotion. While we are in certain emotional states, we can use the energy produced to enhance our performance.

“In terms of muscle strength, music that is perceived to be motivating can lead to bursts of intensity. It increases your work capacity and can bring about ultra-high levels of explosive power, strength, and productivity.”

The ritual of putting headphones on before a training session or getting the right music on the speakers is the actual beginning of the workout. That simple action causes arousal and mentally puts us in a state of proactiveness towards our health (mental or physical).

In 2007, the USA national governing body for distance racing banned headphones and portable audio players at its official races, thus establishing a rule to “ensure safety and prevent runners from having a competitive edge.” This action puts into perspective the power of music.

There is a “thing” in sports that require explosive movements (such as powerlifting, bodybuilding). It’s called the “drop” effect. It’s the arousal effect when the “bass drops,” and athletes use the created emotion of that single moment to propel and exceed their previous performance.

It can undoubtedly transfer to activities such as sprints, high jumps, weightlifting, plyometrics, cross-fit, and high-intensity interval training, known under the abbreviation of HIT.

The Takeaway

Listening to music in exercise before, during, or after an activity can enhance motivation and performance. In other words, it helps athletes get in the zone.

Studies examining the effect of exercise with music during warm-up on athletes’ short-term maximal performances found significant ergogenic results (enhancing physical performance).

Researchers have liked the music’s motivational effects to boost the individual perception of self-esteem, sense of confidence, enhanced arousal, and facilitating motor coordination.

Moreover, this auditory stimulus can be used as a tool to ‘psych up’ in preparation for performance (arousal regulation), shift intentional focus (association/dissociation), boost self-efficacy, and encourage psychological skills usage.

In summary of this research, exercise with music can help us divert the mind from the pain and boredom of repetitive movements, such as doing cardio-intensive work on treadmills, steppers, bikes, etc.

What Music To Listen To In Exercise?

A girl listening to music on a yellow headphones, while smiling and wearing grey sports bra. There is a white background.

All of us have different tastes and preferences. So, there is no rule of “good” music or “bad” music in exercise. In other words, each individual connects a specific song or music type to positive or negative experiences in life.

Still, most people find fast music with solid beats as the most suitable choice. It tends to help the most, so think garage, house, hip-hop. Essentially, this musical tempo can bring your heartbeat up, thus, facilitate exercise.

Rentfrow and Gossling produced series of studies on musical preference to assess the connection between the importance of music and musical taste with many personality dimensions. They tried to create a theory that will explain when, how, and why people listen to particular music.

One of their researchers evaluated fundamental beliefs around music. During the analysis on musical preference, the scientists established their theory that there are four types of music:

  • Reflective and Complex (jazz, blues, folk)
  • Intense and Rebellious (alternative, rock, heavy metal)
  • Upbeat and Conventional (country, religious, soundtrack, pop)
  • Energetic and Rhythmic (rap, hip-hop, soul, funk)

Those who preferred a “reflective and complex” category of music scored highly on openness to new experiences, verbal ability, self-perceived intelligence, and political liberalism.

People who listen to the “upbeat and conventional” category of music score highly on extraversion, self-perceived physical attractiveness, athleticism, and political conservatism.

The category called “Energetic and rhythmic” music, as it went through the authors’ analysis, was intertwined with extroversion, agreeableness, liberalism, and athleticism.

The “Intense and rebellious” category of music was positively correlated to those people open to new experiences and athleticism, self-perceived intelligence, and verbal abilities.

Final Thought – Is Exercise with Music Worth It?

Music changes rapidly; it’s somewhat culture and context-dependent. Even though this scientific research is from a few years back, we can take away some key facts; specific musical genres boost performance and athleticism.

Let me point out that you don’t have to focus only on improving workouts. You can also transfer this knowledge in boosting performance overall in your job, daily chores, etc. In addition, music can also serve to battle complex negative emotions, such as anxiety before or during performing various tasks.

If you are looking for more exciting information on the mind-body connection, make sure to check our Sports Psychology page.

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Tose Zafirov

Bodybuilding and Fitness Expert

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